Father Ryan Lewis was the first Catholic Studies graduate at the University of St.Thomas. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1995, with majors in political science and Catholic Studies. Following graduation, Lewis was selected to continue his studies for the priesthood in Rome, at the Pontifical North American College. He was ordained a priest on June 5, 1999, in the Cathedral of St. Cecilia, Omaha, Neb. Immediately following ordination, Lewis returned to Rome to take advanced studies in theology. He now is serving as associate pastor of St. Bernard Catholic Church and chaplain at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, and has begun work toward a Licentiate in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
What initially prompted you to participate in the Catholic Studies program?
Father Lewis: Dr. Don Briel taught Introduction to Theology in the fall of 1991, my freshman year at St. Thomas. That course, which I was randomly placed in, was a real blessing for me. When Briel initially told me of plans to begin a program in Catholic Studies, I was immediately interested. This goes back to late 1993 or early 1994. I was already a junior, with a major in political science and a minor in philosophy. I basically told him that I would love to take on Catholic Studies as a second major. He was very accommodating to help make that happen for me.
How did Catholic Studies shape your intellectual vision?
Catholic Studies was immensely important in shaping my intellectual vision. The interdisciplinary nature of the program helped me to see that Catholicism permeated all aspects of academic life, and that, properly speaking, the splendor and truth of Catholicism had a place in every aspect of academic life. I came to see that the dichotomy between thoroughly Catholic higher education and academic freedom was a false one. For example, I have been a lifelong lover of reading literature. The courses on the Catholic literary tradition opened up for me a whole new world, with new insights into human nature and Catholicism. Dr. Tom Sullivan’s course on Faith and Doubt coalesced for me, in many ways, all of the philosophy courses that I had previously taken at St. Thomas. In addition, I loved the cultural and social interaction that the program afforded. Concerts, lectures, socials and the like were immensely important to my development as a whole Catholic person. I remember fondly the Friday night discussion groups at the home of Dr. John and Dia Boyle. It’s really true that most learning occurs outside of the classroom.
What are your plans for the future?
My life took a turn this past summer when Archbishop Curtiss asked me to begin working on a Licentiate in Canon Law. I spent the summer at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where I really just got started on the degree. Pastoral necessity required that I return to the parish at the end of the summer session. The future is pure speculation. I intend to continue working on the degree, as time permits. I love the study of canon law, and give the Catholic Studies program some of the credit for my ongoing desire to learn. I certainly owe my archbishop a debt of gratitude for giving me so many opportunities to do so.
My first love is parish life. Hopefully as a pastor of a parish some day, I will be able to lead a faith community to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his church. Being a priest is a beautiful, unmerited gift and also an awesome responsibility. I thank God each day for calling me to this vocation. I love being a priest and serving God’s people.